Let’s Talk About Race

Tuesday morning as we were getting ready to leave the house for work and school, Johanna in her chatter stated that she is black because her skin is brown and that there are white people. In my moment of trying not to freak the heck out, I brought the conversation back to color and said that there are plenty of beautiful colors in the world, and started to ask her the color of “things” in the room.

Then I exhaled fire.

How did my child know about race? That may seem like a silly question to some, but let me tell you about Johanna. She is what I like to call a young 3. By that I mean while some 3 year old girls are taking pictures posing with their hands on their hips, or imagination as my mom liked to call it, Johanna is still just holding still and saying “cheeeese!”. And I love it. She doesn’t act grown, although she is just as assertive as other little girls. She doesn’t point out that someone else looks different. She hasn’t made that connection outloud yet.

I am not running away from the subject of race. I know we will have to discuss this topic eventually. I get it. I know this. This is not why I am upset.

I am upset because Johanna said she learned about white and black at school, which means they touched on race. Can I remind you again that she is 3? In what context was race being discussed? And why didn’t we know about this as her parents? Transparency is my issue with this. If you do not have preschool age children, perhaps you remember, or you have heard from a friend with a 3 year old that at this age parents are very involved in the curriculum. We usually always know what is being taught. Usually when I talk to Johanna about her day it isn’t a new conversation for me. I already know that this week they are going over the number 17 and the letter S. I know that from the bible they are studying about zachariah and of course, Jesus. I could go on and on. So the fact that we as the parents weren’t alerted to the fact that in some way they were going to discuss race gave me pause.

I expected them to talk about color. I can deal with color. Johanna can deal with color. Oddly enough it was last month during black history month that they lightly and briefly touched on race, but it didn’t come back to Johanna’s memory until this week. That whole time I was telling her that MLK was brown and she never said anything about it. At the daycare johanna was in last year they discussed different cultures, religions, and holidays. We were alerted of it and told what day they would be discussing what, and who was going to come in to talk about it. We were well armed and prepared.

And there is my whole issue with this. I wasn’t allowed to be armed and prepared. No, I don’t want to discuss race with Johanna right now because I know my child and I know she’s not ready for that discussion. However, if I knew it were going to be discussed I would’ve armed myself with with information for her and found a way to talk to her about it at her tender age. Trust me, I’m already arming myself for the sex talk, and I’ve even began to arm myself for the colorism talk, the drugs talk, the alcohol talk, the same sex relationship talk, etc. The race talk I still hadn’t figured out what I wanted to say. I was waiting for cues from her to see what she was able to digest.

I’m good with the school again – sort of. This is not my dream school for Johanna, but I know that she at least has one teacher that adores her, and she’s getting a good, Christian education, which I love! So for now I will deal. And even though they knew my name before, they really know it now. Mr. Johanna (what the kids call him, ha!) and I are not passive when it comes to our daughters education. I need for them to be aware of that and respond accordingly.

Have you had the race talk with your child? What do you think is the appropriate age to have the race (not color, but race) discussion with your children? How about the racism talk? Slavery? Oy, it all gets so complicated so fast!



6 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Race

  1. I would follow her lead, if she has questions. Also, if you have concerns, you may want to talk to the teacher or headmaster. It sounds like it was a word choice the teacher may have used within the context of color? In which case, teachers can workshop more appropriate ways to discuss colors of skin instead of blindly entering race into the conversation.


    • I did speak to the teacher (I’m a very hands on parent) and it wasn’t meant to cause harm. I knew that when I called the school so I didn’t call in anger. They are all very nice people who try to showcase the love of Christ at all times (it’s a Christian school). However, I needed to let them know that at 3, that wasn’t ok, and if it was a part of their curriculum, like everything else they should’ve given us a heads up, you know? Thank you for your comment!


  2. I stalled for a while before posting this, because I frankly feel so ignorant. I had no idea what “colorism” was. I actually looked it up. I knew such a thing existed, but I had not heard the term before. My son is just over a year old, and I look at him and think, “But he love everyone indiscriminately.” We have the good fortune to live in a neighborhood that is very racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse. On the one hand, I think that will make the race conversation easier. On the other hand, it means the conversation may come sooner. And I hope the conversation will be with me first. And clearly, even I have a lot to learn. (Very thought-provoking post!)


    • Unfortunately in the African American community (and Indian, and Asian, etc.) colorism is something you deal with very early on. So much so that I’m like a pitbull protecting Johanna against it. I listen when people compliment her to make sure they don’t give her that backhanded compliment of “you’re so pretty for a chocolate girl”. As if a chocolate girl is rarely akin to being pretty. There’s this old saying in the black community that show’s just how ignorant people can be:

      If you’re light, you’re alright
      If you’re brown, stick around
      If you’re black, jump back!

      And that is what I have to fight against to protect my daughters self-esteem. This whole race/colorism issue is going to be a doozy!


  3. Wow, how young! I don’t have kids yet, but they will grow up multi-cultural–speaking Spanish with my husband’s family and English with my family, so I’m sure that the differences between races and cultures will become apparent very quickly to them. Yet I hope to raise children that love and appreciate the differences we have!


    • Very young, right? We live in a very diverse city, so I’m guessing that Johanna has noticed the different “colors” but the word race is so loaded, we’re not ready for that discussion yet. Right now I feel as if I don’t have to teach her to embrace all “colors” because she already does. I think that comes naturally to kids. However, when we have the race discussion, I will teach her how everyone does not follow that way of thinking, and take it from there. Thank you for your comment!


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